I’ve mentioned it before: healer queues for dungeons are surprisingly long in FFXIV. Green Armadillo added, in a comment to my last post, that from his experience, healer queues are almost as long as DPS queues. That’s an unusual situation, then. I wonder why that is?
First things first, the Tank:Heal:DPS ratio is probably
more less (thanks to Green Armadillo for pointing this out; I have no idea what I was thinking when I wrote that) favorable to DPS in this game than in most others I know, being 1:1:2 (=2:2:4 for full parties), in contrast to, for example, WoW or EQ2, which run with 1:1:3 (with EQ2 adding a support in their sixth spot for “canonical” group setups). Rift, though, is similar, with the same ratio as FFXIV (again, adding a support in the remaining slot).
I’ve witnessed healer queues in these games before, but never to that extent. It seems that there must be an awful lot of healers around. Are they that popular in FFXIV? And if so, why? I enjoy playing one, of course. But I did so in other games, too, so I’m not a good data point. But since that’s all I can go by at the moment, I’ll give some anecdotal input of why I like my healer. (This post also sneakily doubles as “what I’ve done in FFXIV in the last two weeks”.)
Classical game design, as far as I understand it, tries to increase the difficulty over the course of the game. This is mostly to offset the players getting better at the game. As they better understand their abilities and how they work together, the difficulty needs to be increased, or the game will become dull. In addition, many games design the very beginning to be faceroll-easy (at least these days) to give you some fuzzy sense of achievement early on. It’s a thin line, though: ramp up the difficulty too strongly, and the game becomes frustrating towards the end; too slowly, and players will get bored.
With RPGs, you have the additional dimension that, as you progress, you get new abilities. That way, you can never stop learning how to play your character, because the conditions change.
In FFXIV, my impression is that healing actually has become easier as I level. Not to the point where it’s getting boring; more to the point where it’s not frustrating any more. I’m not sure whether that’s simply because the spectacularly bad groups seem to be confined to the low end of the level spectrum… I haven’t had a tank unable to hold aggro on more than one mob, and DPS running off in different directions… but I think part of it lies in the ability toolbox. In the beginning, you start with very few abilities: one heal, one cure for debuffs. Your mana is also very limited. Depending on how bad your fellow group members play, you can feel helpless as you try to keep them up, but either run out of casting time (raw throughput) or out of mana.
As you level up, you get additional abilities that fundamentally change how you play. For me, these were Regen (a HoT), Stoneskin (an HP shield), and Shroud of Saints (instant threat reduction and mana regen over time). Stoneskin, cast on the tank, means that you don’t have to heal them for the first few seconds of every pull. You can then start with Regen instead of a direct heal, which means that I now rarely have the problem that half a pull beelines for me. It allows me to feel in charge when it comes to my threat generation. Stoneskin also has a long buff length, so unless it gets consumed, it will stay on you for 30 minutes. Which allows you to also buff up the DPS with it, which gives you more leeway in healing. It also allows you to “preload” some healing before boss fights, which saves you a little bit of mana during the fight itself.
The big Achilles heel, from what I had read before, is a white mage’s mana consumption. You can put out spectacular healing, but you won’t be able to keep it up for long. Thankfully, this is where Shroud of Saints comes into play. The mana regen is very helpful, and I don’t think I’ve run out of mana on a boss fight more than once since I got this ability. That doesn’t mean you can be careless: you still have to precast and cancel, fish for free heal procs, and all those things. But SoS allows me to heal and even battle-rez careless DPS, and still have the mana to keep the tank up 30 seconds down the road.
I feel much more in control, which makes me happy. I also very much like the planning factor of playing a healer. When do I cast heals on who? Which ones? How can I make sure I will have some mana regen phases? Even though four abilities account for 90% of my casts, the class doesn’t feel dull.
Maybe other people also have noticed that, and enjoy it. Maybe that’s why we have so many healers.
And if playing a healer gets so much more rewarding at higher levels… I should really play my paladin more again. I used to love tanking. Maybe I’ll rediscover my lover for it.
Plus, you know, instant queues.